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How to advocate for yourself at the doctor

How to advocate for yourself at the doctor

We’ve all been there, something weird is happening to your body — an illogical bleeding, unusual pain, or unexplainable patch of baldness on the back your head. To be responsible, you march yourself in to the doctor’s office.

But after the visit, you don’t have an explanation for your condition, but do have a bill for $500.

Today, as health care professionals are pressed for time, and health insurance remains a modern mystery, it’s often hard to get clarity about our medical concerns. In fact, studies show that women’s pain is often more severe, frequent, and longer lasting, but treated less aggressively than men’s pain. Which means, for women, making sure we get the answers to our burning health needs is critical.

So how do we turn our next doctor’s appointment into a successful visit, with clear explanations, and useful treatment strategies?

First, we need to reframe the relationship, and understand that doctors are working for us, says Linda Adler, CEO of Pathfinders Medical, an organization founded with the goal of empowering patients to navigate the medical system.

“Just like in a business, if you are being overcharged for your cable bill, you are going to speak up and handle that,” Adler says. “I suggest you go in and understand what your goals are, and work with someone you like to get those goals met in a collaborative way.”

According to Adler, here are a few things to try the next time you go to the doctor’s office.

1. Find a doctor you like, and feel comfortable with
A physician may have gone to school for 15 years, but they are still in client services. So, without being a jerk, remember that you have a right to ask for what you need. “The first thing you need to do is really understand that you have the power in the relationship with your doctor, so you want to find a doctor that you feel good about, and is going to work on your behalf,” Adler says. “If you don’t like the person you are seeing, find someone else.”

2. Know what you want to get out of the appointment
Adler suggests that when patients arrive at the doctor’s office, they ask the receptionist how much time has been scheduled for the appointment. This way, you will make sure to have time to get all of your questions answered. “It is a business meeting,” Adler says. “You want to make sure you are getting value for your dollars.”

3. Take the time to understand what your health insurance covers
While contacting your health care company is about as pleasant as a mammogram, that phone call can mean the difference between a $50 copay and a $10,000 bill. Although patients don’t always realize it, they can ask their health insurance how much a visit will cost, and what is included. To make sure your doctor is giving you the service your insurance company will pay for, ask them how they are “coding” the visit. For example, you may go for an office visit, which is covered, but the doctor orders a diagnostic test, which is not covered, and could result in a hefty bill. “Read your insurance documents carefully so there are no surprises,” Adler suggests. “If they say, ‘We can’t really tell you how much it will cost,’ you say, ‘Can you tell me who can?’

4. Bring in your own medical records
Sure, there is something a little Tracey Flick about showing up with your entire medical history, but you want to be cured, right? Plus, taking the time to collect your medical files will force any doctor to take you seriously, and probably work a little harder. “You want to have someone who is listening to you, and asks you questions,” Adler says. “And who takes enough time to get the appropriate care accomplished in each appointment.”

5. Be an educated patient – as long as it doesn’t give you a panic attack
If you have a chronic condition, and have taken the time to read the latest research on that condition, you should talk to your doctor about what you have read, as long as it can be collaborative. “Your outcome should be to get the best possible care,” Adler says.

6. Ask lots of questions
Don’t be afraid to ask for lots of information, without being obnoxious. “The two mistakes that we see most often is people don’t ask a question, or they become difficult,” Adler says. “If you can be nice but firm, without being difficult, that usually gets the best answers.”